When I first became a parent, the tween years weren’t even on my radar as something I had to think twice about.
I was too focused on the all consuming demands of early motherhood, and any years beyond the immediate future just seemed so far away.
Plus, when anyone warned me, (unsolicited of course) of hard years to come, they either always talked about toddlers or teenagers.
So I was shocked when I noticed my oldest, (who is rapidly approaching the tween years) acting like a teen!
I was so confused because there are times when she’s still child-like, but can switch on a dime to eye rolls, a huge attitude, and easily irritable.
Despite the challenging attitude at times, my daughter and I have a very solid bond, and I really want to do everything I can to keep it strong.
I know there’ll be bumps in the road as we navigate this transition, but I’ve been trying out these strategies and it’s made a huge difference in navigating the hard parts!
If you too are looking to connect with your tween, the following tips will help keep your bond strong and help you bounce back after you’ve had an argument or a heated moment.
Understanding the Tween Years
Adolescence and Tweens
The tween years are a transitional stage between childhood and adolescence, that typically ranges from ages 10 to 12.
During these years, you’ll notice your child going through significant physical, emotional, and social changes.
It’s essential to understand this transitional stage so you don’t take things so personally, and to better connect with your tween, and support their growth.
Physical and Emotional Changes
As your tween enters puberty, their body will undergo various physical changes due to hormonal fluctuations.
You might notice growth spurts, body changes, and changes in body odor or acne.
These physical changes can be really hard for your tween to deal with, especially if people are noticing and pointing it out.
It’s crucial to be patient and empathetic during this time, as these physical changes can impact your tween’s self-esteem and confidence.
Emotionally, your tween may experience mood swings or be very sensitive.
I was really surprised when my daughter began having huge mood swings and getting her feelings hurt by, (what I perceived as) things that didn’t warrant that big of an emotional reaction.
These big emotions are happening because of their developing brain and hormonal changes.
It’s important to create a safe space for your tween to express their emotions and discuss their feelings openly.
If they’re tight lipped about what’s going on with them, you can also get your tween books about puberty, body changes, and emotional changes that they’ll experience.
Your tween’s desire for independence will grow stronger during these years.
Once your shadow, your child will now begin to really separate themselves. They want to make their own decisions, but they still crave guidance and support from you.
Give your tween opportunities to become independent by giving them age-appropriate responsibilities and let them problem-solve which allows them to make their own choices.
To connect with your growing tween, talk with them and empathize with what they’re going through and encourage opportunities for them to become independent.
One really important aspect of connecting with your tween is to practice effective listening.
This means you’re actively paying attention to what they’re saying, (put your phone down, turn the TV off, get rid of any distractions) and don’t interrupt or judge.
That latter part is definitely something I need to change! My daughter pointed out that I constantly interrupt her, (because I’m either anticipating what she’s going to say or I want to jump in with my thoughts). This irritates my daughter to no end and she’ll always tell me to not interrupt her. So when I notice I’m doing that, or when she tells me, I make it a point to not say anything until she’s completely done talking.
If you have a tween who doesn’t like to talk a lot, make sure you’re asking open ended questions and giving them enough time to fully answer before saying anything.
This ensures that you’re showing them you understand their feelings and concerns.
Open and Honest Conversations
Building a strong connection with your tween requires open and honest conversations.
Share your thoughts and experiences, and make it a point to discuss both the positive and the negative parts.
By giving them some insight on things that happened in your life, you’re opening the door for them to share their life with you.
Plus when talking about negative experiences you’ve had or mistakes you’ve made, they can get an idea of the consequences that happen before they do the same thing.
Here are some ideas to initiate meaningful conversations:
- Discuss current events or topics that you’re both interested in.
- Share stories from your own tween and teen years.
- Talk about their hobbies and interests, and ask how you can get involved.
Also, it’s vital to give your child supportive feedback. You can celebrate your tweens accomplishments and still express your concerns in a non-judgmental manner.
When challenging situations arise, focus on what the problem is, and not on your child.
If you start going in on what they did wrong or what they should’ve done, your kid will likely shut down, (I’ve definitely made this mistake).
Instead offer guidance and encouragement to let them know that you’re there to help them through any problems they may be facing.
To ensure your feedback is helpful, consider these tips:
- Acknowledge their efforts and progress, even if the result isn’t perfect.
- Encourage them to learn from their setbacks and not be discouraged. (Ask what solutions they have).
- Help them set realistic goals and offer support in achieving them.
Building a Strong Relationship
Spending Quality Time
One of the keys to building a strong relationship with your tween is spending quality time together.
Set aside time throughout the week to engage in activities you both enjoy, like family dinners, playing games, reading books, or watching movies.
These positive interactions help your child feel connected to you and can help improve their mood.
Because your child is mostly independent now, (and as we all know every day life is hectic) or maybe you’ve got other kids who need you too, you may forget that your tween still needs time with you.
I noticed that many times when my daughter is moody, she’s looking for a connection with me. Once I started making sure I was doing regular activities with her, her mood improved and her emotional outbursts decreased!
Expressing Love and Affection
Your tween needs to feel loved and supported during this transitional phase of their life.
Again, because your kid is big now, they may not ask for affection. But just because they don’t ask doesn’t mean they don’t still need love and affection from you!
Make an effort to express your love and affection in a way that resonates with them. Maybe your child has moved past wanting hugs and kisses, but enjoys snuggling with you while watching a movie. Or they like to hold your hand, or cuddle while reading a book.
Whatever love and affection looks like for your child, make sure you’re doing that!
Other ways to show your tween you love them are:
- Praise: Boost their confidence by pointing out things they’ve done well or the effort they put into something.
- Listening: Put away any distractions and actively listen to what they’re telling you.
- Open communication: Encourage open and honest conversations by allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment or interruption.
Creating Family Traditions
Participating in family traditions is another way to bring your whole family closer together. These customs can help your family feel connected, provide a sense of stability, and create lasting memories.
Some ideas for traditions are:
- Celebrating milestones: Think birthday celebrations, graduations, and religious milestones.
- Holiday traditions: Think about the holidays your family celebrates and hone in on special traditions you can enjoy together year after year.
- Cultural customs: Share your family’s cultural heritage through food, music, stories, or other traditional practices.
You can always adapt your traditions as needed to help your child feel included as they get older and still nurture that strong bond.
Navigating Challenges and Difficult Topics
Approaching Challenging Conversations
When navigating challenges with your tween, again it’s so important to be non-judgmental.
No one wants to talk to someone who’s going to make you feel bad for expressing your thoughts and feelings.
Talk to them about topics that matter to them and listen carefully to their feelings and concerns. Keep in mind your child may prefer to talk through chat and text messages, so be flexible to communicating with them in their preferred way.
Some things to keep in mind while having these conversations:
- Stay curious about your tween’s perspective. Ask questions to learn more about their thoughts and opinions.
- Make sure you listen without interrupting or forcing your viewpoints.
- Encourage honest communication.
Dealing with Peer Pressure
At this age, your tweens peers are going to have a huge influence on them. This can impact who they choose to be friends with, what activities they participate in, how they do in school, and their behavior.
To help your tween manage peer pressure, teach them to:
- Recognize signs of peer pressure, (what can it look like, how it may make them feel).
- Understand how to weigh the pros and cons of a situation when making a decision.
- Know that it’s okay to say “no” and stand their ground. Help your child come up with responses they can use when they feel uncomfortable. Give your child a code word they can use if they need you to get them out of a situation. (For example, have you seen my yellow shirt-means can you come pick me up).
Addressing Risky Behaviors
Mental health, bullying, emotions, and other sensitive topics are important to talk about as your tween will likely encounter them at some point.
Here are some tips to address these issues:
- Mental Health: Talk about what mental heath is and the importance of taking care of your mental health. Let them know it’s ok to ask for help, and talk about what resources are available (e.g., school counselors, therapists).
- Bullying: Talk about strategies they can use if confronted with bullying behaviors, and encourage them to seek out people who can help them.
- Emotions: Help your tween recognize, process, and express their emotions in healthy ways.
Even though it may be uncomfortable, it’s also essential to acknowledge and discuss topics like sex, drugs, alcohol, dating, eating disorders, and other risky behaviors.
You may feel like it’s too early to have these conversations but by having them now, your child is more likely to hear you out than if you wait til their a teen. Plus they’ll be better prepared to handle these situations when they do occur.
Supporting Their Growing Independence
When your tween was younger, you were the person who decided what activities they participated in.
Now that your child is older, you’ll need to give them space to discover their own sense of self, which means letting them decide what hobbies and activities they want to do.
You can help support them by finding them classes and resources.
On occasion, try to participate in their hobbies and include them in hobbies you enjoy as well. This helps to maintain a strong connection between the two of you.
Keep in mind growing independence often involves your tween isolating themselves from their family.
This is normal so don’t take it personal if your kid starts spending all their time in their room!
Setting Boundaries and Expectations
While fostering independence is a vital step in parenting, setting boundaries and expectations is equally important. Letting your child know what the rules are and establishing a sense of routine is critical to helping them understand what the limits are.
Some tips for setting rules are:
- Create a consistent daily structure, like specific times for homework, screen time, and family activities.
- Discuss the consequences if they break a rule.
- Encourage open conversations about the rules you set and be open to their feedback, as this shows respect for their opinions.
Guiding and Protecting Them
As your tween explores their independence, it’s essential to protect and guide them without being overly intrusive.
Be attentive to their emotions, their physical health, how they’re doing in school, peer relationships, and trust your gut if you notice any signs that you think aren’t normal for your child.
- Support their decision-making by offering helpful suggestions, while still giving them room to make their own choices.
- Ensure their safety by giving your child clear expectations about online use and social media.
- Be proactive in addressing any signs of depression, substance use, or any other unhealthy behaviors. Don’t be afraid to get professional help if your efforts aren’t working or you’re not sure what to do.
Creating Opportunities for Connection
Engaging in Shared Activities
Finding common interests and hobbies is a great way to connect with your tween. Consider watching a movie or playing video games together. My daughter and I love movie nights together!
Not only are these fun activities for you guys, but it can also be a low pressure way to start conversations.
You can also participate in sports or take walks or go on hikes together. My husband and daughter enjoy playing soccer together. This is a great way for them to bond while also creating healthy habits.
Try to set aside a specific time each week to do your favorite family activities together so they don’t get lost in the demands of daily life.
Finding Moments for One-on-One Time
However, sometimes life gets really busy and you just can’t fit in a longer shared activity.
You can still make the most of the ordinary opportunities like car rides, cooking dinner, or those few minutes before bed to have meaningful conversations with your child.
Encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts with you, while also sharing your own. Share what you guys loved about the day or what you wished had gone different.
There’s a lot of changes during this period of your tweens life. There’s a push and pull between staying a child and growing into an independent teen that’s challenging for both of you! But by staying present in your their life, communicating, listening, and being supportive you’ll help boost your tween’s confidence, and hold onto that strong bond the two of you have!